A progressive flow-routing model for rapid assessment of debris-flow inundation

Alexander N. Gorr, Luke A. McGuire, Ann M. Youberg, Francis K. Rengers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Debris flows pose a significant hazard to communities in mountainous areas, and there is a continued need for methods to delineate hazard zones associated with debris-flow inundation. In certain situations, such as scenarios following wildfire, where there could be an abrupt increase in the likelihood and size of debris flows that necessitates a rapid hazard assessment, the computational demands of inundation models play a role in their utility. The inability to efficiently determine the downstream effects of anticipated debris-flow events remains a critical gap in our ability to understand, mitigate, and assess debris-flow hazards. To better understand the downstream effects of debris flows, we introduce a computationally efficient, reduced-complexity inundation model, which we refer to as the Progressive Debris-Flow routing and inundation model (ProDF). We calibrate ProDF against mapped inundation from five watersheds near Montecito, CA, that produced debris flows shortly after the 2017 Thomas Fire. ProDF reproduced 70% of mapped deposits across a 40 km2 study area. While this study focuses on a series of post-wildfire debris flows, ProDF is not limited to simulating debris-flow inundation following wildfire and could be applied to any scenario where it is possible to estimate a debris-flow volume. However, given its ability to reproduce mapped debris-flow deposits downstream of the 2017 Thomas Fire burn scar, and the modest run time associated with a simulation over this 40 km2 study area, results suggest ProDF may be particularly promising for post-wildfire hazard assessment applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Debris flow
  • Hazard assessment
  • Inundation
  • Modeling
  • Wildfire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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